The overriding principle is that consideration should be shown to others on the course at all times – Section 1, page 18 the R&A Rule Book. That says it all really. Etiquette is a major tenet of our game and one that helps set it apart. Unfortunately, in Pattaya understanding etiquette is left very much up to the individual. He or she, it is assumed, will already know all about etiquette from the conventions and customs of their “home” clubs – yeah right. And spare a thought for the Farang whose exposure to etiquette is entirely Thailand based.
A few years back, a keen golfer I know introduced his then partner, a Thai lady, to golf. Like many natives, they would take a long lunch, or dinner, at a driving range somewhere in Bangkok, as you do, and hit balls – hour after hour. She quickly became addicted. They would then have a hit on the nine-hole pitch and putt course attached. It wasn’t long before she wanted to join him and his mates for a round of golf. She was far from impressed when told she wasn’t ready because she did not know about etiquette. ‘Etiquette? What is etiquette? Why you not talk about before?’
The truth was that my mate never thought she would take to the game such that she did. She loved it, and was prepared to put in the work necessary to become a reasonable player. So lessons hitting balls were soon accompanied by lessons in course management, scoring, rules, care of the course, consideration to others, pace of play and so on. They played several rounds together on a 9-hole course, just the two of them, where the focus was on the how as opposed to how many. It was her knowledge of course management and etiquette that determined when she was ready for her first competition round, not her playing ability. By the time she fronted up to Khun Len and the PGS for her first real outing, her understanding of etiquette was such that it wouldn’t cause embarrassment – to her or her playing partners.
Too often we see new golfers on the course who appear quite lost as regards etiquette. I realise they know no better, but whoever introduced them should realise that competition golf is not the place to start the learning process. Their ignorance is unfair on them, their playing group, and to the rest of the field.
Etiquette can mean different things to different people, depending upon where you first started playing your golf. Here follows a list under four headings; Safety, Playing the Game, On the Green and Course Consideration.
- Never hit if there’s a chance your ball might reach the group ahead of you. If it does, yell “fore” immediately, and make a point of apologising to the players concerned – at the earliest opportunity, say before they leave the green, or at the very least the next tee.
- Practise swings – never make a stroke or practise swing in the direction of other players or caddies. Small stones, pebbles, twigs or the like often fly from the ground when people make practise swings. Never swing towards others when practising your swing, period.
- Always check the area of your club’s arc when making a practise swing, especially when on the tee.
- If green staff are in the area of your intended play, alert them. Green staff will normally have right of way.
- Never throw clubs. I once witnessed a golfer, frustrated with his lot, hurl his pitching wedge sideways – straight into the legs of his caddie. Not sure whether it cost him more in lost friends or baht, and I didn’t care. To all those tossers who get off by throwing their clubs, there are many reasons why you shouldn’t, but here’s one – you’re not good enough to justify getting that angry.
PLAYING THE GAME:
- Mark your ball so that you can identify it.
- The convention in Pattaya is to tee-off in order of handicap – lowest first. From the second tee on, the honour goes to the player with the best score on the previous hole. If there is no outright winner of a hole, then the order of play does not change from the previous tee. This teeing order does not apply if, in order to speed up play, your group decides on ready-golf – whoever’s ready, hit.
- On the teeing ground, a player should not tee-up his/her ball until it is their turn to play.
- Displays of frustration are a part of the game. Outbursts of temper, however, are not. Yelling, screaming and continual high-volume swearing are not too far removed from club-throwing, in my view. Again, to those who think they have the right to impose their presence in such a way, I suggest your skills are simply not good enough to warrant getting that angry. What compounds the felony is that Thais regard such overt signs of aggression as most unattractive, meaning that player’s caddie will withdraw into herself as soon as she witnesses such action. She may also believe she has lost face in front of her peers. Any player whose actions cost their caddie “face” will not have a good day.
- Do not stand directly behind the player when he/she is about to play.
- Always try to keep pace with the group ahead. This generally means your group should be about a half-hole behind. If this stretches to more than a hole behind, you should consider inviting the group behind to play through.
- If looking for a lost ball, and it looks likely your group will take the full five minutes allowable, then the group behind should be invited to play through. Such an invite means so much more if it is done without delay.
ON THE GREEN:
- In most countries, the player whose ball is farthest away plays first, irrespective of whether his ball is on the green or not. In Thailand, if your ball is the only one off the green, then it is your shot, even if you are closest to the hole. TIT.
- Unless physically impaired, golfers, real ones, repair their own pitch marks. This, more than any other single action, will show which golfers learned the game in Thailand. Usually they don’t bother because that has always been the caddie’s job. Bullshit. It is the job of every golfer in the four-ball to repair any pitch-mark they see, whether they caused it or not.
- Never walk on someone’s line of putt. The area around the hole in particular is sacred ground. The first thing to note when you walk on to a green is the location of every ball in your group, then steer clear of their lines to the hole.
- Do not stand on a line that is in the line of sight, either ahead or behind, of a player who is attempting to putt.
- When marking your ball, ensure your marker is placed directly behind the ball. To those used to having their caddies mark their ball, be aware some will place their marker nearest to where they are standing – often to the side of the ball – only to later replace the ball in front of the marker, ie. in a different position. This action places your score in jeopardy.
- If asked to move your marker, as it impedes another player’s line, do the following: Align the heel of your putter-head at a 90-degree angle to your ball marker, with the putter-toe pointing at a nearby tree or some other feature. Reposition your marker at the point where the toe of your putter touches the ground. Sometimes you will need to move the marker two putter-head widths. When it’s your turn to putt, repeat the procedure in reverse, ensuring your ball is placed back in the identical position it originally occupied. Be aware, very few caddies will follow this procedure. Best you do it.
- Whenever other golfers are similarly required to move their ball, be the first to remind that golfer to replace his marker, before he plays from the wrong position.
- When replacing a ball in front of a marker, many caddies will thumb-press the area of green immediately behind the ball, at the point where they extracted the marker. This is illegal. It places your score in jeopardy.
- The Rules state that pitch-marks only may be repaired. Some caddies will repair any mark they think is on your line. Their actions are your responsibility.
- After putting out, remove or tap down any impediments or sprig marks close to the hole. Such actions may well represent the closest our deeds will ever resemble that of a pro. Ever notice how, after putting out, they smooth the surface for those that will follow? Class.
- Always repair your divots.
- After playing from a bunker, always make sure they are left in a better condition than you found them. You should ensure your caddie observes this practise as well.
- Courses have different protocols on where and how to leave rakes. Personally, I prefer to leave them outside the bunker, in line with the pin, handle pointing back towards the tee.
- Be aware that in Thailand golfers will be held accountable to make good any damage incurred to hire carts. This may apply even if your caddie is the driver. TIT.
- Should carts be permitted off the paths, golfers should observe the “90 degree rule”: make a 90 degree turn off the path toward the fairway to a given ball, and return straight back to the path, not along the path of greatest convenience.
- When sharing a cart, drive to the first ball and drop that player off with his/her club, then immediately drive to the second ball.
- When carts are limited to paths only, always take more than one club before approaching your ball. Especially so if you don’t know the lie or distance.
- Keep carts well away from greens or hazards. Beware many courses over-water the area immediately in front of their greens.
- Avoid using the putter-head to support you when near the hole. Especially noticeable when retrieving the ball from the hole. The green’s surface is not designed to support your body-weight whilst leaning on a putter.
- When attending the flag-stick, hold it at arms-length and in a way the flag doesn’t flutter in the wind. Always stand away from the sun so the hole or putting-line is not in your shadow. Loosen the bottom of the flag-stick before the putt is made, so it doesn’t stick when it comes time to remove it – which is immediately after the player has hit the ball.
- When laying the flag-stick down, always lay it off the green.
- It is normal for the caddie whose player will putt last to replace the flag-stick. If playing without caddies, it is good form for someone other than the last player to putt, to replace the pin.
Dress Code; at the courses we play, the dress code is casual. Unfortunately, some Farang take this a little too literally. Club-house attire after the round should always involve a change of clothes. In my view, shirts worn post-round should have collars, but then I’m rather old-fashioned. Ever seen a Thai golfer, male or female, dressed in anything other than an exemplary fashion? I haven’t. Farang? Nuff said.
Remember the R&A’s guide; the overriding principle is that consideration should be shown to others on the course at all times. Do this and your thoughtfulness will be repaid several times over. For those who want to learn about US business golf etiquette, including must-dos like letting the client win, and “dick-outs”, knock yourself out here.